Out Of Pocket Quarterback Donovan McNabb looked more like his old self in leading the Eagles to their first win of the year

October 05, 2003

Each week during the season quarterback Donovan McNabb and center
Hank Fraley of the Eagles get together on Wednesday and Thursday
evenings for "dinner and a movie." They settle in the office of
quarterbacks coach Pat Shurmur, chow down and watch videotape. In
the middle of their first session last week, while studying
defensive tendencies of the Bills, McNabb got a call on his
cellphone from his brother, Sean, who told Donovan to turn on the
TV.

A cable channel was carrying the Philadelphia 76ers' press
conference announcing the contract extension signed by guard
Allen Iverson, and there was Iverson wearing a white Eagles
jersey with McNabb's number 5 on it. The quarterback had absorbed
most of the blame from the fans and media for Philly's 0-2 start,
and now his name was bound to come up in questions for Iverson.
(Jeez, Fraley thought as he sat in the small office, we can't
even escape the what's-wrong-with-Donovan story in here.) Someone
asked Iverson about the jersey. "I wore it for a reason--to show
support for him," Iverson said of McNabb. "The guy had two bad
football games, and people who say they love him are booing him."

The next day McNabb said he appreciated Iverson's sticking up for
him. "He knows," said McNabb. "The thing he said that got to me
was, 'Sometimes [fans] look at us like we're not human.' We're
supposed to play the same every game. It was good to hear."

What the Eagles saw from McNabb in a 23-13 road win over the
Bills on Sunday was even better. On his first play McNabb threw a
fade pass with beautiful touch to wideout Todd Pinkston for 27
yards. On his third play McNabb, who had been criticized after
the first two weeks for not scrambling enough, took off in the
face of a rush and juked his way for a 25-yard gain. Five plays
later running back Correll Buckhalter burst into the end zone
from the two. After the Bills went three-and-out, McNabb drove
the Eagles 65 yards in 16 plays, setting up David Akers's 26-yard
field goal. And when he needed to bleed the clock at the end of
the game, McNabb did that, too, converting a third-and-seven with
2:32 left on a 14-yard pass to wideout James Thrash.

To be sure, McNabb was not solely to blame for the opening losses
to the Bucs and the Patriots. Coach Andy Reid called an
out-of-whack 106 passes versus 22 runs. The line didn't do a good
job of protecting McNabb, who was sacked 11 times and pressured
into three interceptions. Nevertheless most fingers were being
pointed at the $115 million quarterback, whose 41.4 passer rating
ranked 33rd in the league.

So with a bye in Week 3, Reid told McNabb to get out of town
during the team's four-day break. McNabb went to his off-season
home in the Phoenix area. "I sat on the patio a lot, just
thinking," McNabb says. "It was about 105 degrees, but I was able
to wipe the slate clean."

The second pick in the 1999 draft, McNabb has never been a
consistently accurate passer. Entering the season he had a 56.9%
career completion rate, and he was even worse in the first two
games (45.1%). "I think people have been getting more pressure on
him this year," says New England cornerback Ty Law. "You get five
or six big guys running at any quarterback, and his performance
is going to drop. Sure, McNabb's been less accurate this season,
but his line hasn't held up." That's true to an extent, but
McNabb couldn't get into any kind of rhythm even when he had time
to throw.

That all changed on Sunday when McNabb, relaxed and jovial before
the game, completed 11 of his first 14 passes. He was sacked only
twice and ran nine times for 47 yards. After banging his left
thumb on a helmet in the second quarter, he finished 18 for 29
for 172 yards and no interceptions.

So has Donovan found his groove? Not yet. He still doesn't set up
and throw the deep ball as well as he did early last season. But
he showed he's on the right track. "He's got a fiber running
through him that is perfect for our team," offensive coordinator
Brad Childress said after the game. "We knew he wouldn't stay in
a funk forever."

"We had fun out there," McNabb said in the tunnel outside the
Eagles' locker room. "I was able to get into a rhythm. I was
excited to be playing again. That's why you saw the smiles."

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER McNabb hit the ground running against Buffalo and flashed some ofhis magic. COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER (INSET) [See caption above]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)